We talked to Ruzbeh Bacha of CityFALCON about his journey from convenience to impact, and he had the following to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Ruzbeh Bacha: I’m lucky to be in Malta where there has not been a strict lockdown like in the UK. People here wear masks, and life continues more or less as normal. My family in India is okay.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded CityFALCON.
Ruzbeh Bacha: I qualified as a chartered accountant (ACA) with KPMG and worked in financial audit and private equity transactions advisory for a few years. After my MBA from Oxford, I moved into strategy and finance in Nokia and then Skype, which was acquired by Microsoft.
After Skype, I took some time off and learnt how to code. In 2014, I managed my own stock portfolio and had trouble finding relevant and timely information on my investments. I knew the data was out there, and the internet had made it publicly accessible, but it was not well-indexed, curated, or structured. Even where it was available, it was expensive and not available through APIs. So I built a dashboard for my own investing over 6 months, got positive feedback from friends who were also in the markets, and that’s grown into CityFALCON today. I’ve shared more info on why I launched the company in this blog post from 2014.
How does CityFALCON innovate?
Ruzbeh Bacha: Our innovation process has two components.
1) User and client feedback, which we collect from all possible sources – direct feedback on the website, app store ratings, social media. All of this is recorded in one file and discussed with the team.
2) Based on discussions with clients and users, identifying their pain points and coming up with possible solutions (the Steve Jobs approach).
The difference between the two components is that in the former, the users know what solution they are looking for and all we need to do is implement it. In the latter, we, as a team, have to think of an innovative solution ourselves.
Apart from that, we have an open culture in the team wherein people can share ideas, work together on UX, challenge proposed UI, etc. Our team consists of about 40 people. Our design team liaises with the financial analysts and developers; developers work with sales, and so on. This freedom of ideas ensures new ideas continually enter the conversation. The company’s open culture also means most of these ideas are posted publicly in the team chat and receive feedback from other members.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Ruzbeh Bacha: Internally, we have always been a global company. We have three offices (UK, Malta, and Ukraine), and we have a few team members outside Europe. So, we’ve always had remote collaboration before the WFH trend took off. We did implement a salary sacrifice to loan scheme, but we have already lifted it and repaid the principal with interest after thankfully raising £1.2m in 2020.
Looking outward, the biggest impact is the slowing of the sales pipeline. Deals with large enterprises take a lot of time even in strong economic environments – now, the deals move at a glacial pace. They’re still moving, but they’re taking more time than ever before. Potential POCs have been cancelled, and some of our more unfortunate fellow SMEs are running low on cash, putting pressure on our own revenues. On the flip side, competitors that had high burn rates have been negatively impacted.
That said, we are also seeing an increase in interest from clients that want to cut costs, and as we offer a strong, far more economical product than some of the competitors, we’ve seen an uptick in interest. A lot of SMEs are also jumping on the opportunity to ingest content cheaply, so we’ve received more interest from them as well.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Ruzbeh Bacha: As a startup, we are always making difficult choices. We’ve been fortunate to have mostly solid workers and strong inclusion, which keeps those workers around. Naturally, there have been people we needed to let go, and some we’d rather not see go have left. Both of those can take a psychological toll. Intermember strife can also become a problem, and we’ve since hired an HR manager to handle some of this.
We have also seen difficult financial times before. Earlier in the game, there had been 5 times we did not have enough cash to pay salaries at the end of the month. Some money has always come through, though. Even with Covid, we now have more cash in the bank than ever.
The main lesson to take away, I think, is that no book or course can prepare you for entrepreneurship. There is a lot of decision making on the fly and a lot of unexpected issues.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Ruzbeh Bacha: Lots of physical activity and a healthy diet. I dance, do yoga, play table tennis, and go to the gym regularly. I try to eat well, too. These two habits keep stress at bay for the most part.
And one more thing that maybe some people would balk at: I have cut my caffeine intake to zero. There’s nothing like drug dependence, increasing your anxiety and stress.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Ruzbeh Bacha: We aim to compete with the incumbents in the financial data provision space, including household names. At some level, we also compete with general news services and aggregators like Google News, though they are generally too broad for our targeted audiences.
The traditional incumbents tend to charge far too much while offering a broader and more curated content than the free services. We are carving out a niche in non-English content and global coverage. Like sentiment and summarization, our analytics and insights form part of a comprehensive competitive advantage, too.
Our innovation approach also provides longevity, as we’ve been able to move quickly to improve UX, deploy a modern interface, and offer an API. It is surprising how little modern technology and automation the big players have committed to.
Your final thoughts?
Ruzbeh Bacha: I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the entrepreneurial journey to date and hope that we, as a society, can support more youngsters to take this route instead of chasing money and security. This is one of the key ways I believe that we as humankind can progress.